Five questions heading into F1 2024’s crucial Bahrain pre-season test

There are some big questions to answer as the first action of F1 2024 gets underway in Bahrain.

Williams' 2024 F1 car on track
Williams' 2024 F1 car on track

F1 teams are ready for a crucial three days of pre-season testing in Bahrain that should provide a hint of what to expect heading into the new campaign.

All 10 teams have a maximum 24 hours of track time to prepare for the new season and can only field one car at a time. This means both drivers have to equally split the test programme as they put their respective new challenger through its paces.

Given the limited running, pre-season testing is always a pivotal time of year for the teams, representing a key chance to run their cars in anger for the first time.

While it is often difficult to draw any firm conclusions, such tests usually provide an initial indication of who is looking good - and who might be in trouble - heading into the season opener.

How will the Horner controversy be resolved?

Christian Horner sitting on the pit wall at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Christian Horner sitting on the pit wall at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

The controversy surrounding Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is likely to dominate much of the chatter in the Sakhir paddock during testing.

Horner’s future is in doubt as he faces an ongoing internal investigation into allegations of inappropriate and controlling behaviour towards a female colleague, claims he firmly denies.

The 50-year-old will attend the Bahrain test and is expected to take up his position on the Red Bull pit wall as normal during the three days of running.

Outside pressure is beginning to mount on Red Bull to reach a swift resolution, with the start of the 2024 season just days away. Will a conclusion be reached in the coming week? It remains to be seen how long this saga will drag on for.

Have we seen the real RB20?

On-track attention will certainly be focused on Red Bull, who raised eyebrows when they launched their new 2024 challenger last week.

The RB20 featured drastic changes and included design elements that have been compared to last year’s Mercedes.

The new RB20 at Red Bull's car launch
The new RB20 at Red Bull's car launch

Considering the contrasting fortunes of Red Bull and Mercedes last season, it was a surprise to see the reigning world champions seemingly take inspiration from the troubled W14.

This had led to suggestions that Red Bull could have been trying to dupe their rivals by using a ‘dummy car’ at their launch, before unleashing a very different concept in Bahrain.

It will be fascinating to see exactly what rolls out of the Red Bull garage when we get the green light on Wednesday morning.

Third time lucky for Mercedes?

After producing back-to-back flawed car concepts, have Mercedes finally got F1’s current aerodynamic regulations right?

Described as a “complete relaunch” by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, the W15 is a visually different challenger compared to its predecessors.

Mercedes will be hoping the fundamental changes made to their latest F1 car will help them rediscover their previous winning form following two disappointing campaigns.

Will it be a case of third time lucky for Mercedes during Lewis Hamilton’s farewell season?

Lewis Hamilton driving the new Mercedes W15 F1 car
Lewis Hamilton driving the new Mercedes W15 F1 car

Have the chasing pack closed up?

Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Aston Martin will all be looking to emerge as challengers to Red Bull in 2024 as they bid to end Max Verstappen’s recent domination of F1.

All four showed signs at promise at varying stages last year. Aston Martin came out of the blocks fastest following an incredible winter before their form tailed off.

Mercedes and Ferrari made indifferent starts but came good towards the end of the season, while McLaren had a woeful opening to 2023, only to emerge as Red Bull’s biggest threat at some rounds in the second half of the campaign.

Can any of those teams move another step closer to Red Bull this season?

Will there be any surprises?

Aston Martin were the surprise package of 2023 as they pulled off a remarkable transformation to go from midfield also-rans to podium contenders in the early races.

Could another team emerge from the winter as the dark horse? Williams made encouraging gains throughout 2023, while the likes of Alpine and Sauber have plenty to prove after underwhelming seasons.

Perhaps the newly-rebranded RB squad will benefit from their closer collaboration with sister team Red Bull and cause a few early shocks? 

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